You can't put a price tag on it: Greg Dore

Editor's Note: This issue's Member Profile features Greg Dore, Road Commissioner, Town of Skowhegan, Maine; member, APWA Government Affairs Committee; former chair of the Small Cities/Rural Communities Forum (2000-02) and the House of Delegates Executive Committee (2003-04); and Past President, APWA Maine Chapter (1998-99).

Tell us about your background: I'm originally from Skowhegan. I joined the Air Force during the Vietnam War, and after that I went to college, learned a trade, and then went to Arizona where I worked as a mason while I studied engineering at the University of Arizona. After that I came back here, worked the field a little bit and then got a job, an elected position here at the Town as the Road Commissioner.

I've been married for thirty...I better get this right [laughs]...thirty-two years, and we have five sons who've all grown up and moved away, and they're doing very well now. We also have three granddaughters.

Favorite Movie: It's called Nothing to Lose. It's about a guy who thinks his wife is seeing another man, and he's distraught, and then he gets robbed by some guy. But instead of giving in, he throws his wallet out the window and drives like a madman through the city trying to kill the robber, and they end up out in the desert. It's just hilarious. He tells the guy that robbed him, "You picked the wrong guy on the wrong day." From that point on it's hilarious.

Actually, I've watched it so often that for Christmas two years in a row my kids gave it to me, the first year on VHS and the second year on DVD. I still watch it and laugh at the same things. I truly enjoy it.

Hobbies/Interests: When I'm not working I'm usually doing something with woodworking. I enjoy working with my hands and building furniture. I also spend some of my spare time on the lake, water skiing and barefoot skiing. But I don't get to barefoot as much as I like. I'm getting too old for it.

Barefoot skiing...that must be tough. It takes a lot out of you, but the adrenaline rush is just unbelievable. I'm pushing two hundred pounds, so I've gotta go forty [mph]. That's flying on the water on two bare feet.

Role Model: That would be my father. My father was a very personable man, energetic, outgoing. It seemed like everybody we knew liked him. I try to pattern myself after him and his work ethic.

Career Accomplishments: Well, I've done a lot since I've come to work for the Town of Skowhegan. I've become very actively involved with the public. In 1997 I was given the award of Citizen of the Year in the Town of Skowhegan. I've received recognition of Outstanding Citizen three times since 1992.

In 1996 the Town got an award from Region I EPA for the Yellow Fish Road educational program on the hazards of dumping waste into storm drains. With APWA I've worked my way up through the chairs to Chapter President, Delegate, and then the chair of the House of Delegates. I'm also very active in the civic organizations. I'm a past Exalted Ruler for the Skowhegan-Madison Elks.

Tell us more about the Town of Skowhegan and the challenges you face as Road Commissioner. The Town is a mill town and the mill that is supporting us is presently in good financial condition. But a lot of the mills in the towns around us have either closed up or sold out. We're so dependent upon that tax base that it's scary to think what could happen if they pulled out of the Town. Because of that the Town people have that fear about how we spend money.

So, trying to provide the taxpayers with the services that they've become accustomed to, but keeping the costs down, is just getting very difficult. When I started for the Town in 1992 you could buy hot top at twenty-two dollars a ton. Now it's exceeding forty dollars a ton, and my budget hasn't changed. Salt used to be nineteen dollars a ton, now it's fifty-five. And over the years, because we've been calibrating our sanders and working with the state to get an efficient program going for winter maintenance, salt has become a huge priority for the major roads. Our budget for salt has gone from forty thousand dollars in ten years to a hundred and forty thousand dollars. So money is tight, very tight. It's difficult trying to do more with less, especially in central Maine, which is not a very wealthy part of the state. Unemployment is very high and there are a lot of elderly people in this area, so there are fixed incomes. So it's a difficult battle.

The other thing is that my position is elected, and that gets difficult at times. Especially when you have competition...this is how I make my living, and I'd be devastated if I lost my job. Well, I don't know if I'd be devastated, but it would be difficult. I've become pretty accustomed to what I'm doing here. But that has its issues all by itself, just being elected.

Another thing shall I say this...OSHA requirements and other state and federal regulations continue to create more work for me and my staff. Not that this is a bad thing, but a lot of the paperwork that goes along with our jobs today as compared to ten years ago is eating up a lot of my time. We're trying to become more efficient at what we do, but at the same time we're becoming burdened with paperwork. The computer age was supposed to save paper, but it actually creates more because you have access to so much more information now and you want to get as much of that information as you can.

So, you don't spend the time that is necessary with the crew to assist them in an efficient manner. We're spending more time in the office pushing paper around our desks just to make sure we're in compliance with OSHA regulations and other permits. Even the Town itself...we have purchase order programs and things like that that are just eating up a lot of our time. So the paperwork is getting to be unbelievable. But you just keep plugging away and take one thing at a time.

You chaired the Small Cities/Rural Communities Forum some years ago. What were some of your responsibilities with that group? When I was the chair we were just beginning. At that time what we were really trying to do was get the word out, and impress upon the members of APWA how important small cities and rural communities are to our organization. We represent more than half of the membership. And at that time, when I was the chair, when you went to the Congress in September most of the sessions that were offered weren't relative to small cities and rural communities. So we pushed to get more things that people from these towns and small cities could relate to, and that eventually happened over the years. We tried to get the word out and I think we accomplished that. We've got a pretty good-sized group now.

You're a current member of the Government Affairs Committee. What initiatives are you working on with that committee? What I remember the most from our meeting in Minneapolis is something that Bob Albee [former APWA President] had brought to light, which was the ramifications of the rising fuel costs. We need to be proactive and address the issue of the tax dollars decreasing while the costs of construction and maintenance are increasing. We need to go to alternative fuels and make sure that we're getting our fair share out of that, too.

My personal interest is to promote public works as a first responder. I think that in all circumstances we're really the first ones that go in and take care of the problems, whether it's a flood or a nasty snowstorm in Maine. We're a first responder, but we don't really get recognition for it.

When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and I was watching the news, they were talking about the fire and police. But flying over with the camera you could see the bulldozers and the bucket loaders moving the debris out of the way so that the fire trucks could get down the roads. They never even mentioned anything about public works. At the government level we need to be recognized as a first responder. So that's what Jim [Fahey, APWA Director of Government Affairs] and I are working on.

You mentioned the other day that you're building a house. How is that going for you? Oh, my gosh [laughs]. I think it's going quite well. But it's stressful, because you want it to be perfect. This will be the one and only home that I build for myself. It's on a beautiful location right on the edge of a lake in central Maine, looking at the mountains. I'm beating myself up trying to make it perfect, but then in the same breath I'm gonna tell you that I can't afford to make it perfect. I've built a lot of homes in my life, because I worked in construction when I got out of the service, that's how I got through college. I built several residential homes and a lot of commercial properties. But it's nothing like building your own. So it's exciting, it's interesting, it's stressful, and [laughs] it keeps me alive.

Why do you like being a member of APWA? My biggest reason for being a member of APWA is because of the networking. In 1992 I was invited to the show in Boston by a local equipment carrier in town, and I met so many people that were so helpful in my first year as Road Commissioner. It was unbelievable. And my friendships have continued since. You can't put a price tag on it.

To give you an idea of what happened, the first year that I went one of the guys from the Maine Chapter, Bill Shane [Top Ten recipient, 2000], introduced me to the GM dealer for the east coast. We had been having several problems with our GM trucks. We had General Motors dump trucks, medium duty, single axle, and every one of them was less than five years old and they'd all had transmission problems. And we couldn't get any rebate or warranty on them because we were hauling with these trucks and that voided the warranty. But after I was introduced to this gentleman and talked to him for quite awhile about it, he contacted our local dealer where we bought our trucks and we were reimbursed for four of the five transmissions that we'd bought. So that was just one connection that has gone on for years that has been very helpful for me.

Going to the conference also helps me promote my attendance with APWA with the Town, because every year I bring back something new from some of the sessions or the networking or the roundtables that I can use. I haven't yet been to an APWA show that I haven't had something to bring back, be it the Snow Conference or the national conference in September. I've always found out something from somebody that's been helpful. And now that we have infoNOW you can go online and ask questions of different communities, which is just invaluable. Just like the other day we were looking at buying a new sweeper, and put it on infoNOW: "Does anybody have any specs for a new sweeper or some ideas?" And in less than ten minutes we got a page full of help from members. We need things like infoNOW to keep us self-sufficient in what we do, and APWA is an avenue for that.

The last thing I want to say is that the educational programs that we offer through the bookstore are very valuable. I've brought back a lot from the bookstore that helps me deal with the crew and employees, or even other situations such as new regulations coming down the line. When you have access to a manual that can help walk you through the program, that's nice. That's another thing that I use a lot.

Networking and education, that's what keeps me interested in APWA.